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Bills Defense Squish Fish

Harried by the Buffalo Bills, Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins looked awful on third down and not too good on the other downs.

Miami converted only one of 14 third-down situations, and Buffalo forced three Marino turnovers to win 23-18 Monday night.

"This could really be a big one for us," Bills coach Wade Phillips said. "Our defense was outstanding. Everybody talks about their defense, but ours is playing tremendous."

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Game Summary

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  • The victory avenged the Bills' 24-17 loss at Miami in last season's playoffs. After that game, Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson celebrated in the locker room by stomping on a box of Flutie Flakes.

    This time the Bills' defense did the stomping. Their domination included a 59-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Gabe Northern.

    "It's very simple," Johnson said. "If you turn the ball over and don't convert on third downs, you're going to have a tough time winning."

    Linebacker John Holecek led the defensive charge by the Bills (3-1), while the loss by the Dolphins (2-1) left the NFL with three undefeated teams.

    "We can definitely play better, but I think we're up with the elite in the AFC," Bills quarterback Doug Flutie said.

    Buffalo had lost five consecutive games in Miami.

    "Championship teams have to win on the road," Holecek said.

    After Buffalo took a 23-12 lead on Steve Christie's third field goal with 6:56 left, Miami's Brock Marion returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to the 4. O.J. McDuffe then caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Marino, the first touchdown allowed by the Bills' defense in 13 quarters.

    The Dolphins got the ball back with 2:59 to go, but Marino threw four consecutive incompletions from the Miami 43. He finished 22-for-44 for 251 yards with two interceptions and two sacks, his first of the year.

    Marino grudgingly gave credit to the Bills and his longtime nemesis, defensive end Bruce Smith.

    "We're the ones that made the mistakes that really cost us the game," Marino said. "But they're pretty good on defense. No. 78 is pretty good."

    Flutie went 12-for-25 for 186 yards and added 29 yards rushing.

    The teams traded field goals before the Bills' defense broke a 6-6 tie late in the first half.

    Holecek came through free on a blitz and blindsided Marino to jar the ball loose. Northern scooped it up, escaped the grasp of Miami's Cecil Collins and then ran untouched 59 yards for a touchdown.

    Holecek returned an interception of Marino 35 yards to set up Christie's final field goal, a 31-yarder.

    "I was in the right place at the right time," Holecek said. "He threw it right at me. I was unbelievably shocked."

    Christie also hit from 26 and 52 yards.

    The Dolphins closed to 13-12 early in the fourth quarter, but Buffalo responded with an 80-yard touchdown drove. Flutie hit Eric Moulds for 40 yards, then hit him again for the 6-yard score and a 20-12 lead.

    "I threw the ball poorly in the first half," Flutie said. "I said at halftime, `I've got to let it rip,' and then I hit the deep ball to Eric."


    AP
    The Bills defense forced Dan Marino into three turnovers.
    The Dolphins' first score came after Flutie fumbled a snap and Miami's Shawn Wooden recovered at the Buffalo 41. Four plays later, Olindo Mare kicked a 30-yard field goal.

    The Dolphins drove 74 yards in the final 1:41 of the first half but settled for a 26-yard field goal by Mare. They marched 65 yards in the third quarter, but after McDuffie dropped a potential touchdown pass, Mare kicked another 26-yarder.

    Mare also hit a 44-yarder.

    Notes

  • Neither team reported any serious injuries.
  • Moulds, who burned the Dolphins for 240 receiing yards in last season's playoff game, was limited to 60 yards on four catches. He has scored against Miami in four consecutive games.
  • Tom Hutton averaged 39 yards on five punts in his first game with the Dolphins.
  • Miami receiver Yatil Green was inactive because of a sore hamstring.
  • A fumble by Collins in the third period was overturned when challenged by the Dolphins. They were then forced to punt.
  • The Dolphins fell to 0-19 since 1996 when they run the ball less than 25 times.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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